Sunday, Jan. 2, is the Epiphany of the Lord. Mass Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12.
In today’s Gospel we can observe how the Magi journey in stages from the light of a star to the bright and glorious Light of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at the stages of their journey from being mere magi to becoming, by God’s grace, wise men.
Stage 1: Call
The text says, “Behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’”
The term “magi” speaks of learned men; perhaps they are ancient astronomers. But their key identity is that they are Gentiles. Up until this point in the Christmas story, only Jews had been called to Bethlehem. It is clear that the Gospel is going out to all the world. This call completes the Church, which needs both Jews and Gentiles.
Notice that God calls them through something in the natural world: a star. What is the “star” that God used (and uses) to call you? Perhaps it was Scripture, a magnificent church or an inspirational song. But more typically God uses someone in our life in order to reach us: a parent, a family member, a friend, a priest, a religious sister, or a devoted layperson. Who are the stars in your life through whom God called you?
Stage 2: Constancy
Upon arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi find a rather confusing and discouraging situation. Herod, knows nothing of the birth of this new King. Even more puzzling, the summoned religious leaders seem unenthusiastic about the newborn King. After providing the location of his birth, there is no rejoicing, no summoning of the people to tell them that a longed-for Messiah has finally been born, not even further inquiry! But the Magi persevered in their search; they did not give up! Many today have found their way to Christ despite the fact that parents, clergy and others who should have led them to Jesus were either asleep, ignorant or sinful.
Stage 3: Confession
The text says, “After their audience with the king, they set out. The star that they had seen at its rising preceded them. … On entering the house they saw the Child with Mary, his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”
The Magi set out and continue to follow the call of God through the star. Notice, too, that they “prostrate” themselves before Jesus. The Greek word used is prosekunēsan, which means “to fall down in worship.” This is a confession of faith. But is their faith a real faith or just a perfunctory observance? Let’s look for the effects of a real and saving faith.
Stage 4: Cost
The Magi are moved to give three symbolic gifts that show some of what true faith includes. They are costly gifts. Gold symbolizes all of our possessions. Frankincense symbolizes the gift of worship. Myrrh, a burial ointment, prefigures Jesus’ death. These three gifts are highly symbolic. The Magi are showing forth the fruits of saving faith. Are we willing to meet the cost of discipleship?
Stage 5: Conversion
The text says, “Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” Here is essential evidence for faith: conversion. These Wise Men are walking differently now and not going home by the same way they came. They’ve turned around (conversio). They are walking the straight and narrow path that leads to life rather than the wide road that leads to damnation. No longer mere magi, now they are wise men!